Memories of Japan

It is time to say Sayonara to this amazing country and its lovely people and we are left wondering how you can get a population of 149 million people to be so courteous, so polite, so helpful, so gracious, so happy to share their culture with travellers and to send them home with special memories. They are welcoming everywhere you go. There are people offering assistance everywhere you go. They thank you for coming, thank you for waiting and thank you for everything. The Japanese people do not like to touch each other as in hand-shaking or hugging so there is much bowing and we are so used to bowing it has become second nature. I might even bow to the one in charge of the bowing!

We remember the dolphins who swam alongside the ship one night as we were having dinner on a low deck with a window beside the water. We enjoyed seeing the highway of ships and fishing boats as we travelled the South China Sea and along the coast of Japan. We could have sat for hours and listened to the wonderful pianist onboard the Viking Orion and we were in awe of the people at every port who welcomed the ship and farewelled us when we sailed out of their city.

We will never forget the delicious and healthy food served up in special little colorful bowls and dishes (even if we didn’t know what we were eating at times!) We admired the cleanliness of everything and were surprised that you very seldom see rubbish bins anywhere so we think that the Japanese people take their rubbish home with them. We looked at the skyscrapers in absolute wonder and lauded the designers of these remarkable buildings who had the foresight to design something worth looking at and who created space around the buildings to provide trees and gardens in these busy cities. We loved seeing the magnificent parks and green spaces for people to enjoy away from the hustle and bustle of traffic noise. We couldn’t believe the number of power poles and power lines stretching right through every city everywhere but when you understand that there are geothermal areas everywhere and that Japan sits on four tectonic plates you understand that this is the way it must be. We enjoyed seeing long tree-lined roads with colorful azaleas decorating the sides of the pavements and we applauded the people who have put thought into making this highly populated country a place of beauty. We felt at home seeing the mountains, the bush, the lakes and the sea surrounding this country of so many islands.

We really have felt like a tourist in this country – we cannot speak the language, we cannot read Japanese but we have got by without the need to go to acting class to mime (but we have had to act a bit at times!) Everything is written in Japanese – signage, labels on food, street signs and maps but we have figured it out – mostly!

However, like every country we have visited there are still homeless people which is a sad sight to see. They are not evident during the day but at night they do line some streets with their cardboard boxes and worldly belongings tidily stored around their little sleeping huts. Come morning – they have packed up and gone.

The cherry blossom turned up for us on the last day and it was magnificent. We would recommend Japan to anyone but we would also recommend you do some guided tours where the lovely Japanese guides are keen to share their culture with you so you can learn more about the places you visit and the history behind them.

We go home now where there will not be a buffet breakfast for us to make healthy (or unhealthy) choices! There will be no entertainment shows every night for us to attend, no one coming into the room to clean the bathroom and change the towels, no schedules to look at or signs to try and translate! No immigration forms to fill in, no more Customs folk checking to see ze apple hasn’t fallen into ze bag! We go back to road cones, Auckland traffic and winter storms and cold toilet seats!

We have really felt the Zen in this country and have a profound feeling of being so grateful and thankful and absolutely thrilled that we have had the opportunity to learn more about the people of Japan, their long cultural history, their magnificent country of many many islands and their much admired courtesy.

Sayonara Japan and arigato to everyone of you who made this such a memorable trip and one we would not have missed for the world. If you have travelled with us by reading Golden Postcards we thank you. We love sharing our experiences – travel seems to enlighten the mind. When you visit a country you haven’t been to before you notice things that are different from what you are used to and you are introduced to new experiences you haven’t had before. You see the world in a different light and it gives you hope for the future.

Yep – we’ve got this!
But didn’t quite get this!
It’s morning tea time!
Or maybe it’s lunchtime!
Or it could just be snack time!
This is a common sight – the pram or pushchair is not for the child – it is for the dog because the dog might get tired on the walk. There are lots of little dogs and there are big stores catering for their every need
An elderly lady working in the park. It is very common to see elderly people tending the parks – leaves are swept up constantly and every flowering plant is tidily trimmed.
This is a common sight too – the bikes for the Mums to take their children for an outing
And off they go!
The beautifully trimmed trees everywhere – the branches are cut short and the new growth sprouts out to make these lovely shapes
Little gardens in the park
A water feature in the park actually called “Niagara Falls Shinjuku”
Tokyo’s twin towers designed by a famous architect and this view from our hotel window
Just a few of the buildings around us in Tokyo
The high rises of Tokyo

Hakone National Park and Mt Fuji

It is a cloudy morning in Tokyo and we are off to Hakone National Park and Mt Fuji. Fortunately for us, our tour departs from Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku where we are staying so we go to the meeting point at the appointed time. This tour company has several buses going to Mt Fuji today and so we stand for Bus 5 where ze guide has told us to stand but there are also signs for the various bus numbers and one American guy who is, I think, a graduate of the Trump Academy of Zero Diplomacy (and is on our blimmin bus) appoints himself the tour leader and yells out to everyone on bus 5 to “come overrr herre bus 5 people”. Heaven forbid – we prefer the lovely Japanese Yuki who we have just met! Anyway, Yuki has done this before and she steps up to the mark and, besides, his seat is in the back of the bus and thank heavens for that!

We leave Shinjuku on what would be a very busy Monday morning but it is Golden Week here in Japan which is the second most important holiday (New Year being the most important). Golden Week is the last few days of April and first few of May where there are four bank holidays. We travel with relatively little traffic through the spiderweb of expressways. Yuki tells us that 14 million people live in Tokyo and that one third of the population of Japan (129m) live in Tokyo and the surrounding areas. We pass many stadiums and Government owned and run horse racing tracks – the Government controls all the horse racing in Japan. We also pass large breweries of Asahi, Santori and Sapporo. Yuki is excited because this is the first time she is revisiting Mt Fuji in three years. She managed to get a job in the Vaccination Call Centre during Covid but is so very happy that life is almost normal again. On we go through a mountainous area of dense bush in vibrant shades of green, through long tunnels and over long viaducts looking down on vast valleys where there are small settlements. We pass Lake Sagami, an artificial lake. There are many paddy fields on arable land – planting is just taking place in some and others are already flooded. There are huge plastic hot houses and many people are tending their gardens as we pass neighborhoods where there are lots of vegetables growing in garden plots.

Yesterday it was snowing on Mt Fuji but today we are in luck because the sun is shining and the bus winds its way up the switchbacks of the mountain road to the fifth station beside the glorious Mt Fuji which is 3,776 meters high or 12,365 feet. Mt Fuji has erupted nine times in 400 years and our ears are popping as we go up the mountain. Amazingly we see many cyclists riding the mountain today and the one in charge of the B’s (including bikes) sits reminiscing about the big mountains of Ventoux, col d’Abesque, col de Madeleine and others he rode in France and in Germany when he went to compete in the ITU Age Group World Champs and when we went to the Tour de France a few times. I think he would like to be riding Mt Fuji but those days are over and he is stuck in the bus with me!

The fifth station where we get off the bus is 2,300 m and it is rather chilly so those who donned sunfrocks today are shivering a tad. Luckily we packed layers so we are fine and enjoy the closeup view of the mountain as the cloud lifts and we are right there to enjoy it. There is also a little shrine we visit, make our offering, bow twice, clap twice and hope our wish comes true. We are all given a little bell at the souvenir shop which comes with a message that says they have been purified at the shrine on the summit of Mt Fuji and “you can also live for more than a hundred years in peace and happiness”. Thank goodness for that.

Mt Fuji from 5th Station 2,300 m up the mountain

We all hop back on ze bus and wind our way back down ze mountain and drive on to a hotel where we have lunch in an enormous hall which is set up beautifully with tables ready for the tour groups coming in. Here we enjoy another delicious lunch with some entertainment.

Next stop is Hakone National Park which is a huge area of land with mountains and lakes and is enjoyed by many who come to go fishing, boating, tramping, skiing, playing golf and to enjoy the outdoors.

We get to Lake Ashinoko and we are going on a cable car to the top of Hakone Komagatake which is 1,327 m high. Now the one in charge of the B’s does not really like heights and I wonder about this but he is all good and ready to go. We are loaded into ze cable car which is going to take us to the summit and there is a sign that says the temperature at the top is 10 degrees Celsius. (There is no mention of the wind and cloud which is blowing a tad at this point and thank goodness for the Kathmandu jackets). Now, this is interesting because someone has decided to bring their poodle on this trip in the cable car and someone else arrives with what I thought was a cat in a cat cage but turns out to be a miniature dog in the pink carry-on and I am hoping that the cage is well insulated or this little critter is going to freeze to death! We get to the top and decide to do a loop walk on a nice track overlooking a golf course down the valley and the lake. The day finishes with a boat trip on the Lake Ashi to a stop further down the lake where the bus is waiting and there is even a cherry tree in full bloom waiting beside the bus – our lucky day! This was our final excursion on this amazing trip – a ten-hour day and we loved every minute of it.

Amazingly we got through this trip without too much trouble adjusting to the plumbing systems of this country which is just as well because we didn’t pack the “Bathrooms for Dummies” manual. Only two things happened – I tried to use the shower at ze hotel in Tokyo but had water coming out of every spout except the one I wanted so ze boss was called and eventually ze water came out of ze spout I needed so all good. And then today I went to use a bathroom but nowhere to put ze bag so I wiped the basin and popped ze bag in it. But everything in these bathrooms works automatically and to my horror ze tapped turned on and filled the side pocket of my bag with water! All minor compared to what has happened on other trips I can tell you for sure!

We are almost ready to come home but have some memories still to write – one last post will probably be written while we are waiting to board ze plane!

Mt Fuji just as the cloud is moving away!
Vern at the Shrine at Mt Fuji
The lunch stop – always set up beautifully at every place setting. You can’t see it but there are Perspex shields every two spaces
Not sure what the boss is praying for here but he was happy with ze lunch!
All beautifully set up ready to go – and this is only lunch. There was also a little pot of rice and another little container over a flame with beef and vegetables
Passing the hundreds of paddy fields
The cable car to take you to 1327 meters
Lovely walking tracks at the top but very chilly
And we look down on a golf course – rare in Tokyo but in this area there are several
Boat on Lake Ashi
We thought this was the last of the cherry blossom – just a few tiny blooms on a huge tree ………
But we found this waiting for us – yay!